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Young Mr. Lincoln

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I really enjoyed Henry Fonda in director John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln. The film is fictionalized but based on an actual murder trial Abraham Lincoln worked on. Honest Abe leaves Indiana for Springfield, Illinois. Once there he does a poor country family a good turn and they pay him by giving him a barrel full of law books, which prompts him to learn law.

Later one summer he meets the lovely, Mary Todd, but he’s shy and awkward. At a summer festival two brothers from the country get into a fight with a town jerk and the jerk winds up dead. The locals are ready to lynch the outsiders but Abe steps in and turns them around with his wit.

It looks like the brothers have no chance for justice, but Abe takes the case.

Fonda does look like a young Abe. The cadence of his voice sounds small town. The film was enjoyable and would make good family viewing.

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Digging a Hole to Heaven

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S. D. Nelson’s children’s book Digging a Hole to Heaven: Coal Miner Boys will teach readers about the hardships of the children who had to work deep in the mines during the 19th century. The illustrations are well done and show a sharp contrast between the dark mines and the sunny lives lived above ground. Throughout the story of 12 year old Conall, his brother and miners, Nelson has inserted sidebars with facts about child labor, and mining in particular.

I enjoyed the book, but wish the characters had more depth and personality. Each one was standard cookie cutter. Yet I still recommend the book as an introduction to this aspect of history, that’s usually forgotten.

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate

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Engrossing and authentic, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by Susanna Calkins is set in 17th century England. It’s historical fiction mixed with mystery.

Lucy Campion begins as a chambermaid for the Hargrave family. The head of the family is a magistrate who takes his duties seriously and treats one and all justly (so he’s a far cry from Poldark’s George Warleggan).

When the lady’s maid, Lucy’s friend the teasing, lively Bessie disappears she’s soon found murdered. She had run off with the family silver in the middle of the night. Rumor had it that she went to meet a lover. She was sweet on Lucy’s brother Will and he’s accused of her murder, but it seems he’s been the victim of rumors and gossip in an era before the press had to fact check. In fact, most people got their news from sensationalized broadsheets sold for a penny. Lies could easily gain credence and be given ad testimony.

Will was Bessie’s beau, but she also was spending time with a libertine portrait artist who makes Lucy’s skin crawl. Lucy isn’t the typical rebel but she will defy social conventions to visit her brother at Newgate prison or to gather some evidence on the murder that took place at the same spot.

At an event at my public library, author and historian Susanna Calkins spoke of being intrigued by murder ballads that people in this era would sing, or buy and paste on their homes as decorations. These ballads inspired this fascinating story, that weaves historical detail throughout in a natural way.

In addition to murder the story features a touch of romance, which added a nice contrast to gruesome murder.

I learned a lot about life and history circa 1665. I didn’t know there was a plague that year, or that at a trial the accused, not the lawyer did all the interrogation. They took “face your accuser” very seriously. I didn’t know that warm potatoes were put in someone’s bed to keep it warm. There’s a whole lot more, but I suppose you should read the book to learn for yourself.

This story would be great on Masterpiece Theater. It’s a lively read and I found the characters well developed and engaging. I want to read more of Calkins’ work.My one quibble is the ending. Towards the end, when we discover who murdered all these servant girls, the murderer gives a long-winded monologue (well a couple questions were sprinkled in). I just didn’t buy that he’d elaborate in such detail.

Sepia Saturday

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When I saw this darling girl interrupted from her writing, I knew I wanted to find some good photos of people at their writing desk. It’s crucial to have a good place to think and write. Here’s what I found on Flickr Commons.

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Constantin Dumba, 1910, Library of Congress

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Miss Young, 1926 from Musée McCord

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G. Polacco, 1915, Library of Congress

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“Hygiene of the Schoolroom,” 1910 The Internet Archive

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“Hygiene of the School House,” 1910, Internet Archive

We’ve Come a Long Way

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At a presentation on writing Historical Fiction at my library, the speaker talked about Scold’s Bridles. In the 16th and 17th centuries women who were guilty of nagging their husbands, spreading malicious gossip and challenging the clergy could be punished by having to wear a scold’s bridle. The idea was to humiliate. Some bridles had little spokes that actually cut into the face or head. These were popular in Scotland.

Note: There were also humiliating punishments for men who were cuckolded. While both punishments seem cruel and unusual, punishing a man who’s wife had an affair seems even more unjust. The thinking seems to have been that scolds and cuckolds were unnatural.

For more see: Lancaster Castle, Scold’s Bridle

Poldark Returns!

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Drama lovers, history buffs and anglophiles, Poldark has returned to Sunday nights for its third season. Sunday brought what in the UK would be episode 3, but here is episode 2. Demelza and Ross are still in love, but Ross’ headstrong ways still make life hard for Demelza. I’m glad to see she’s got the strength to carry on no matter how obstinate Ross gets. And I’m thankful that at least occasionally, Ross tells her that he’s over Elizabeth and praises Demelza as she’s due.

George Warleggan has grown more prosperous and more pompous as he now is a Justice of the Peace. Woe, to the poor person brought before his court. Unless you’re rich, you don’t stand a chance at justice.

Elizabeth has had a new child, Valentine, whom George believes is his, but Elizabeth knows is Ross’ from another instance of Ross’ foolishness at the end of last season. Elizabeth staged a premature birth by pretending to fall down a staircase. At first she doesn’t want to bond with the baby, but as she comes to align herself more with George  she also accepts Valentine.

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Drake, Morwenna, and Sam

We’ve got a few new characters already. Elizabeth’s young cousin Morwenna is brought to the house to mind Geoffrey Charles, who’s probably about 10 and has gotten quite perceptive and witty in a way George doesn’t appreciate. If George has his way Geoffrey will soon be off to boarding school.

Also after Demelza’s father dies, her two brothers Sam and Drake come to town. Drake soon develops feelings for Morwenna, who at first is tentative because Drake is clearly low born. Sam’s a very pious Methodist and that causes trouble. George insists that Sam and his followers are kicked out of the nearby church. How Christian of you, George! Soon Demelza finds an unused farm building and since Ross is away lets Sam use it for his church.

Where is Ross? He’s gone to France to look for Dwight who’s ship has been captured or lost, no one knows at first. France is in the throws of Jacobin violence. As Caroline and Dwight eloped as her uncle lay on his death bed, Caroline is, of course, beside herself with worry all the while worrying about her love. Rightly so, as in France, they’re killing first and asking questions . . . well, never.

The drama has been true to the original book series and offers romance and drama with complex characters and exquisite scenery and costumes. I do miss Jud’s whinging ways, but with three new characters and more to come, I understand.

 

 

 

 

 

Poem of the Week

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Nine-Eleven
Charlotte Parsons

You passed me on the street
I rode the subway with you
You lived down the hall from me
I admired your dog in the park one morning
We waited in line for a concert
I ate with you in the cafes
You stood next to me at the bar
We huddled under an awning during a downpour
We dashed across the street to beat the light
I bumped into you coming round the corner
You stepped on my foot
I held the door for you
You helped me up when I slipped on the ice
I grabbed the last Sunday Times
You stole my cab
We waited forever at the bus stop
We sweated in steamy August
We hunched our shoulders against the sleet
We laughed at the movies
We groaned after the election
We sang in church
Tonight I lit a candle for you
All of you

Elegy for a sad day all Americans will remember

Sepia Saturday

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I’m so happy to have time to participate in Sepia Saturday after months of overwork. Now I can breath and live.

This week’s prompt shows and ordinary person is the prompt. However, I’ve decided to find photos of women in profile. They’re far from ordinary, aren’t they?

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A Place Apart

Travel writer, Dervla Murphy is known for boldly flinging herself across the globe and opting for the most inconvenient transport forms to encounter cultures that pique her curiosity. In A Place Apart, Dervla takes her trusty bicycle Roz up to Northern Ireland. Written in the 1970s, when the “Troubles” or terrorism, if you’re not fond of euphemisms, was running high, Dervla examines the complexities of the conflict in Northern Ireland. The result is an encounter with a people who confound and amaze her as much as any.

I had oversimplified the issues of Northern Ireland and thought that it was simply a conflict over religion. Religion wasn’t the cause and the conflicts weren’t between just two groups. There weren’t two sides. There were several. Both Catholics and Protestants had several subsets.

I was impressed by Murphy’s chutzpah as she’ll enter a pub where she’s marked as an outsider and regarded with suspicion, yet she’ll tough it out to get people to open up and share their opinions and insights. I will note though that most people were welcoming and saw the value in sharing their point of view and experiences.

The violence people suffered was shocking. Fathers shot dead while watching TV in their living rooms. Children shot. Families on all sides suffered and no place was safe.

While things have changed for the better in Ireland, which gives hope for all conflict zones, our world still has spots where death and violence are an everyday occurrence.

Saint & Sinners Tour

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If you’re in Chicago this summer on a Friday and if you like history, take the Driehaus Museum’s Saints and Sinners walking tour. I took it on Friday and learned so much about the reformers behind the Temperance Movement and the people it affected and the hoodlums who came to power with Prohibition.

We started at the Driehaus Museum and learned the foundations of the Temperance Movement, the people behind it and the era of saloons and the power saloons owners in the city.

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We then went to the Tree Studios. In the late 19th Century Lambert Tree built tree buildings for artists to work and live rent-free. The first floor was for shops to take in rent to off-set the costs of the building. How smart. Artists lived there from 1894 till 2000. Now the Tree Studios have been restored and are office space and reception rooms which can be rented out.

At the Tree Studios we got our first drink. We could choose from beer, wine or water. Then we repaired to a courtyard where we learned about saloons and how they were organized. At first a saloon had to purchase beer from one brewery. However, saloon owners would switch breweries to get a better deal and bigger profits.

Brewers then borrowed the ideas of the “Tied-House” from England. The Brewers bought saloons and only let their brand be sold there. Saloon owners now became managers. While they lost power at work, they continued to have political power because many barkeeps were precinct captains and ward bosses.

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After the Tree Studios we went to St. James’ Cathedral, Fourth Presbyterian Church, the Drake Hotel, and Holy Name Cathedral. I learned a lot about female reformers, preachers, the social services that saloons provided. and prohibition and the unintended consequences, i.e. organized crime, that came from that. Along the way we had a couple more drinks. You could choose from a cocktail, beer, wine or soft drinks. The tour finished at the Kerryman Pub and lasted 3 hours.

The tour had 2 knowledgeable guides and we had 12 participants. You had to be 21 years old to take this tour. Price: $45 includes three drinks.

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